"A country that has 52 nuclear plants and gets one third of its energy from nuclear power can't afford to be lax, but Japan's industry has been plagued by accidents, plant shutdowns, leaks and repeated attempts to cover things up," says TIME Tokyo bureau chief Tim Larimer. "Although the earlier incidents provoked a major shakeup in the administration of Japan's nuclear regulatory agencies, they still seem to escape adequate scrutiny." Obuchi has plenty of incentive to be perceived as getting tough — he wants a public whose confidence in nuclear safety has been considerably diminished to accept the building of 20 more nuclear reactors over the next decade.
The barn door is finally being bolted. On Wednesday, more than 100 Japanese police officers swooped down on the nuclear facility near Tokyo that was the scene last week of the country's worst-ever atomic accident. Meanwhile, the government was reportedly planning to revoke the license of the JCO company, which runs the Tokaimura plant. The criminal investigation stems from the fact that the accident — reportedly caused by eight times the normal amount of uranium being added to a chemical mix — occurred when workers were following a safety manual illegally revised by the company to allow the transfer of nuclear material in buckets. Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi visited the Tokaimura site Wednesday, calling for a "tough and th orough" investigation. His government has been strongly criticized for reacting sluggishly the crisis — as have the plant's managers, who reportedly spent 45 minutes filling in an accident report form before alerting the public to the radiation emergency.